The Department of Social Protection says it believes fraud is behind the refusal of some welfare recipients to sign up for a public service card.
The Irish Examiner reported at the weekend that the Department had made €800,000 in savings through payments ceased or suspended after recipients failed to engage with the registration process for a card.
The department says it does not know why people do not register but says: “It is not unreasonable to suggest that in some cases this represents individuals engaged in identity fraud.”
Public service cards are being demanded for access to a growing range of state services and benefits and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has said while they are not legally mandatory, they will be compulsory for engaging with her department and other departments and State agencies.
Opposition parties and civil liberties groups have reacted with concern that the card is a de facto national identity card which they say must be properly debated and legislated for.
The Data Protection Commissioner has also said “updated, clearer and more detailed information” about the card must be communicated to the public.
However, the department says that these arguments are not reflected in its dealings with members of the public who are told they need to register for a card at risk of losing their benefits if they fail to do so.
“It is difficult to give precise reasons as to why some people have chosen to no longer engage with the Department of Social Protection following an invitation to register,” it said.
“However, as these individuals do not contact the department to complain regarding any aspect of the public service card process, we can reasonably conclude that this is not the issue.”
The department said it did not collect data on the number of people who had a payment stopped because of their failure to register as this data was fluid in nature.
It said it could not update the €800,000 figure, which was reported by the public spending watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General, as the amount saved up to the end of July last year.
“The customers behind this figure choose, for whatever reason, to cease any engagement with the department when asked to verify their identity.
“While the department can not be certain of the various reasons individuals choose to no longer engage with us [emigration, change of status, etc], it is not unreasonable to suggest that in some cases this represents individuals engaged in identity fraud who did not wish to be uncovered.”
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